Advocating for agriculture
Advocating for agriculture -- who is it best left to? For nonprofit organizations and consortiums, such as Protect the Harvest, advocating is strongest when farmers and agriculturalists are directly involved.
The 5-year-old organization founded by Forrest Lucas is a group that is meant to do just that -- advocate by connecting agriculturalists, animal owners and outdoorsmen.
The group has had a presence in recent months as Missouri voters decided whether or not to pass Amendment 1. The "Right to Farm" bill amends the state constitution to "ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed," according to ballot language. Protect the Harvest, along with Missouri Farmers Care and an assortment of agricultural organizations, flooded the public with information on their fight against radical animal rights activists.
"The Missouri Farming Rights Amendment will create lasting legal safeguards for American farmers and ranchers. If adopted, it will ensure the personal rights and freedoms for every farmer, both big and small," the website said.
On the opposite side of the amendment was the Humane Society of the United States, which urged Missourians to vote "no" on the measure.
A press release issued by HSUS this past June read: "The amendment seeks to prohibit laws in Missouri that restrict industrialized agriculture and factory farms, including the 'farming' of dogs in puppy mills. ... By forbidding any state rules to regulate agriculture, Measure 1 allows big agribusiness to write its own rules with no oversight."
The measure did pass. Twice. First by voters, and then after a recount produced similar results. In the Aug. 5 primary election, the measure passed by 2,375 votes. The recount produced a difference of 2,490.
Behind Protect the Harvest
Standing tall for farmers' rights is a man who built successful business endeavors that began when working on a cattle ranch as a teenager.
Protect the Harvest founder and chairman Forrest Lucas said protecting agriculture rights is a national [effort], particularly after HSUS and other animal rights groups backed legislation in several states -- now hindering people from continuing their way of life.
"They're trying to pick off whatever state they can. We've given them a swift kick (nationally), so they're trying to go around to state and county levels," Lucas said.
A video provided by Missouri Farmers Care states several legislative measures passed with the support of HSUS. They include the passage of an amendment to the Florida Constitution in 2002 that destroyed hog farming; the passage of Proposition 204 in 2006 that attacked hog farming and veal production in Arizona; the banning of dove hunting in Michigan in 2006; weakening the California egg industry in 2008; and HSUS's support of Proposition B in Missouri in 2010.
While Proposition B and Constitutional Amendment 1 have been two recent battles in Missouri, it doesn't necessarily mean farms and farmers in the Show-Me state are at a higher risk compared to those in other regions. Lucas said he felt over-zealous animal rights groups will go where they can.
"After Proposition B ... you had about 40 different little ag groups that were totally disenfranchised. They all came together to make one, to have some power," Lucas recalled. "They fought alongside us real hard on Amendment 1. No other state has come together like that."
Lucas operates a Missouri cattle ranch in addition to other successful business endeavors. The Indiana resident began working on a cattle farm in his teens and developed as an entrepreneur from there. According to his biography on protecttheharvest.com, Lucas began mixing oils and additives for his vehicles, leading to the incorporation of Lucas Oil Products in 1989. He also now oversees a production company, who's newest investment was a feature film highlighting the significance of agriculture. The film wrapped production approximately two weeks ago and stars several well-known actors, including Lea Thompson.
"When I read the script, I could hardly put it down," he said.
Agriculture touches everyone, whether one experiences it firsthand in a field of row crops or is three generations removed from farming. Perhaps its ability to link humanity is what's most appealing to those who want to protect it.
Protect the Harvest will be working toward expanding education, particularly for future farmers.
"It's a big thing, because there is such a small number of people farming now," Lucas said, noting only one-third of students participating in FFA live on a farm. "Animal-rights guys are sending materials to the schools themselves, so we've got to counteract that."
On the horizon
Education is key for Protect the Harvest. Educating youths interested in agriculture careers, providing information to farmers and ranchers regarding legislation, regulations and even the disconnect between producers and consumers are all portions of the organization's efforts.
"We're pretty much going on the offense," Lucas said of the Protect the Harvest organization. "Especially when it comes to teaching kids. That's going to take a lot."
The biggest concern Protect the Harvest is currently facing is the 2008 passage of California's Proposition 2, which created a state statute regarding the confinement of farm animals, particularly chickens. Producers have until the end of the year to transition egg-laying chickens from battery cages to housing in which they can turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.
Lucas explained the repercussions could stretch to producers in other states and ultimately halt egg import into California.
"Eggs are the biggest source of protein. They're easy to prepare. Kids can fix their breakfast," he said. "You take that out and what's going to happen to people?"
Mid-Missouri farmers can do more, by starting with signing up on the organization's mailing list. Volunteer opportunities could become available as the organization forges ahead in educational outreach.